MAASAI STEPPE HEARTLAND, TANZANIA--The African Wildlife Foundation urges supporters to respond to the troubling increase in lion killings--often by poisoning--being reported in Kenya and Tanzania.
After reporting 12 lions killed in 2008 alone, AWF Conservation Scientist Dr. Bernard Kissui reported four new incidents of retaliatory lion killings in January and February of this year.
"Livestock predation and retaliatory killing of predators is a huge conservation challenge in the Maasai Steppe because of the unique dynamic interaction between people and wildlife. Although the wildlife migrates over an area 30,000 square kilometers, the core protected areas cover less than 10 percent of the entire landscape over which the wildlife migrate."
Numbering around 200,000 in the late 1980s, Africa's lions are now estimated to be in the 23,000 range and are in danger of becoming extinct.
The rise in lion poisonings was recently covered by CBS news, which attributed the deaths to the misuse of the agricultural pesticide Furadan, produced in the United States. FMC Corp., the company that manufactures Furadan, today announced it would take measures to stop the misuse of its product. AWF has not confirmed that Furadan was used in the lion killings in the Maasai Steppe Heartland.
Dr. Kissui heads up AWF's Lion Research and Conservation Project in the Maasai Steppe Heartland in northern Tanzania, a vast ecosystem of open grass plains that is home to more than 200 lions. Here two core protected areas -- Tarangire and Manyara National Parks -- offer wildlife critical habitat but are too small to support lions year-round. Outside the park, in the surrounding criss-cross of farms and settled areas, lions sometimes damage property and occasionally prey on livestock.
"Understandably, livestock owners who lose cattle are angry--and, retaliatory poisonings and spearings claim the lives of several lions every year." Such conflicts have led to the killing of at least 133 lions in the area since 2004. "This trend, if it continues, could greatly threaten the survival of this precious species," he says.
Bernard is working on a simple but effective solution to head off lion-livestock predation. For the past two years, he has worked with local villagers to protect their herds by reinforcing their bomas with special fencing. This practical measure is making a big difference--minimizing both lion deaths and the livestock losses that spur retaliatory attacks. Bernard is also promoting other improvements in livestock security--such as improving herding practices and experimenting with stronger fence designs--to help pastoralists save their livestock as well as to protect lions. What's more, he is educating communities about the habits of lions and helping to develop warning systems that alert people when lions are near.
AWF will continue to follow the plight of lions in the Maasai Steppe Heartland and update supporters as we can.
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Visit Bernard's blog at www.awf.org/lionblog.
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